JSU Poli Sci Department receives $509K NSF grant, will collaborate with other universities on racial trauma and political behaviors

By Rachel James-Terry

Political Science Professor D’Andra Orey, Ph.D., has received a $509,000 multi-year grant from the National Science Foundation. Orey serves as the principal investigator.

Funds will be used to explore the intersection of race, exposure to trauma and politics on urban residents compared to individuals residing in rural areas. Partnering institutions include Mississippi Valley State University, the University of Michigan and the University of Arkansas.

“The grant is intended to help facilitate mutually beneficial relationships and research between faculty and students by partnering with other schools,” says Orey. “Together, we intend to explore the mental duress caused through the heavy consumption of adverse media coverage coupled with the COVID-19 pandemic and exposure to the shooting of unarmed Black civilians.”

Current research reveals that exposure to traumatic events like the 9/11 attacks or the Boston marathon bombing challenges a person’s mental health. Still, research fails to distinguish among Blacks and whites or the impact of traumatic exposure on Black individuals’ political attitudes and behavior.

The team argues that there is little if any literature that bridges mental health and the political leanings of Blacks even though they tend to experience a unique cumulative trauma that likely influences their psyche.

Specifically, Orey and his team are interested in examining the exposure of COVID-19 related news in tandem with the shootings of unarmed Black civilians and its cumulative impact on Blacks’ mental health.

Through a comprehensive research plan,  they will dissect how subjection to racially and non-racially traumatic events affects mental distress and the correlation between mental suffering as it relates to trauma and the concept of insulation. They also will examine how Blacks and whites manage trauma, among other contributing factors.

JSU political science alum Najja Baptist, Ph.D., serves as co-principal investigator of the grant. He says the research dollars manifested through years of prayer and dedication.

“Over a decade ago, as a master’s student at Jackson State University, this project was a distant dream. Never would I have imagined being able to work and coauthor with my former JSU thesis adviser and mentor, Dr. Orey,” he shares.

Now, a political science professor at the University of Arkansas, Baptist says the primary goal was to give back to the mentors and institutions that poured into him throughout his academic career.

“As a result of this project, we have the opportunity to connect outstanding scholars from historically Black colleges and universities and historically white colleges and universities,” he says.

While the grant is big news, Orey says the impetus behind his efforts is creating opportunities for student involvement.

According to Orey, “Over the last 12 or so years, we have placed 17 students of color into Ph.D. programs throughout the country. In my opinion, this is by far our greatest achievement in recent years.”